Friday 31 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Days 4 and 5: Nadir

A wise old hand with a beard who had successfully completed many TGO Challenges had told me before the event that a real danger point was the morning of Day 3 as tiredness would be setting in.  His sage advice was "have a lie in in your tent then make yourself another bacon butty before setting off".  As it happens I had felt great on the morning of Day 3.  Day 4 was different.  This surprised me as I was in a B and B, and had enjoyed a great dinner the night before.  But on Day 4 the weather was decidedly yukky.  Heavy, prolonged squally showers of rain and sleet.  The night had seen a dumping of snow to relatively low levels on the hills.  I was due to walk from Spean Bridge up to Loch Ossian and find somewhere to wild camp by the hostel.  And I didn’t feel like I wanted to be doing that.  I really didn’t.
I was awake by 4.00am fretting.  By 5.00am I was googling train times home from Spean Bridge.  I had had enough.  I was worrying about the walk and the conditions.  I was worrying about finding a decent camp spot.  I was worrying about how windy it would be for my tent. What if there was even more snow?  I didn't have any spikes or ice axe.  I wasn't doing the tops but there was a fair bit of snow about, or so it seemed and who was to say that more wouldn't come down.  It was cold enough.  Scotland in May.  I don't complain but this blog post simply relates how I felt on the day.
I was still well aware of the train times at breakfast, but by then I had decided that I couldn’t simply give in after all the mental investment I had made in this over the previous 6 months.  Other Challengers would be doing far harder stuff without complaint. But I would do my foul weather alternative (FWA), an even lower level route to my main one.  It basically followed the Spean Valley to Loch Laggan and beyond.  This would take at least 2 days and would mean I would miss my planned legs to Loch Ossian, Loch Pattack and Dalwhinnie.  Even now, after this decision I was checking times of trains from Tulloch Station.  This was near my FWA and would be another place I could dip out and go home.  My reasoning was that at least I would have completed 4 days rather than 3.  In the B and B was a guide to the East Highland Way, which  I had never heard of.  I tried to memorise bits, as parts of this coincided with my FWA and other parts seemed a better route.

Near Tulloch: looking bleak up high
I popped down to the village to the Post Office and bumped into John Woolston and Chaz and Dave.  John tried to encourage me to do my original route – he was going as far as Corrour Lodge.  But he had a place booked in the hostel and I was camping up there.  I had made up my mind.  FWA or home.  So I set off following the lower level valley route.  I became more comfortable in myself I was walked.  I hadn’t given up (yet) and I was making progress east.  And that’s all that mattered in my mind by this time.  I had never planned any heroics.  Just get across. 
The weather was squally.  Really strong gusts when the rain came.  As the day wore on the the rain turned to bouts of sleet and hail.  By mid to late afternoon I had gone several km beyond my original FWA planned stopping point and reached Luible, near Moy Lodge where there looked to be some possible camping spots.  As I scouted for one I was hit by the worst squall of the day.  The wind was really strong.  I would have estimated it was gusting to over 50 mph.  I was struggling to stand at times.  It came with sleet and hail, driving horizontally and cutting into the exposed skin on my face.  There was no way I could start to put a tent up.   Nor did I think the tent would take it.  I thought about sheltering until it passed.  But I was also conscious that this squall could be repeated again and again – they had been coming all day and had got progressively worse.   I wasn't certain what to do for the best.  So I started to walk along by the main road towards Laggan with no fixed plan.  Perhaps I would find somewhere more sheltered to stop further along the road.  The extreme weather continued.  The occasional car went passed.  I didn’t want to camp in this.  I stuck my thumb out.  I would hitch along the valley and find a B and B.  Then, out of the elements, I could reassess.  I was consoled by the fact that at least I had stayed down low.
I then became the recipient of the sorts of generosity lots of local people show to Challengers.  I was picked up by an elderly gentleman driving to Edinburgh.  He used to climb in his younger days.  He took me to "Wolf Trax” mountain biking centre along the valley.  The people there then started to ring B and Bs.  They found a room for me at The Rumblies in Laggan.  Relief flooded through me knowing I would have a roof over me that night.  One of the staff there was about to set off home.  She lived in Laggan and would take me to the B and B.  The sun was out again now, of course.

Beach on Loch Laggan
The Rumblies was warm and welcoming.  Fiona the landlady told me that of course it was ok for me to make up my dehydrated food in my room, as the hotel in the village was closed that evening.  No, a taxi back up the valley tomorrow would be very expensive; she would drive me back up to the point I had hitched from after breakfast so I could continue the Challenge.  That point was now well off my FWA.  I decided I could get to Newtonmore in a long day so phoned a B and B there too.  By now my mind was simply telling me to make progress east.  Not quite the spirit of the Challenge.  Surely this weather pattern would stop soon and we would get a spell of more settled weather?  Even Scotland must have spells of settled weather.  But the next day was all sorted.  What might sound a small feat to others, especially those crossing high level routes, had been a major one for me.  I wasn’t giving up.  I had almost bottled out but I hadn’t done so.

Sun's out! A pretty decent lunch spot

The weather had calmed considerably by the next day.  I breakfasted watching a riot of small birds of so many species on the bird feeders outside the dining room.  The sun was peeping through the clouds.  Fiona drove me up to Moy Lodge.  It was far further than I remembered from the previous day.  I walked through the “Glenbogle” estate of that twee Monarch of the Glen TV series. I made a short detour to the tea shop that I had got in my head from the drive the day before was situtated at Aberarder Lodge.  It didn't exist. The sandy beaches at the end of Loch Laggan looked superb in the strengthening sunshine. I later found a wonderful spot to lunch in the sun and felt more cheerful than I had done for 48 hours.  I was back at Wild Trax by mid-afternoon.  The mobile tea shop was closed.  Story of my Challenge.   I plodded on.  Too much road walking but I was going east(ish).  I went through Laggan, where my day had begun, after 5 hours of walking.  And then on to Newtonmore.  It had been a real slog and a grind.  I was dog tired.  But I was now ahead of my original route plan.  The following day would see me get back on to that by just a very short recovery walk to Kingussie.  Two not very good days but the prospects were now looking up. 


Tuesday 28 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Day 3: Real Heroes

After my route had been submitted and approved by my vetters I had decided that a long road plod by Loch Arkaig had not been the best idea.  But with a B and B booked at Spean Bridge for night 3 I decided not to try changing my plans.  As it happens I had a perfectly enjoyable day, albeit not one with any great excitement or challenge. 
Looking back up loch Arkaig. That's a lot of loch.
I walked parts of the way with John Woolston and Harry from Newcastle and John from Midhurst.  Having people to chat to helped the miles pass reasonably easily.  It was a long plod, but the road by the loch was quiet in the early(ish) morning and, as everywhere in the north of Scotland, there were good views to be had.  The view I most wanted, though, was a tea shop.  I had consoled myself when thinking about this leg of the journey that as I was walking along roads for much of the day I would be able to stop on occasions for refreshments.  I was particularly looking forward to a coffee and slice of carrot cake.  My route was to take me through Achnacarry.  The map showed a museum there.  That meant there had to be a tea shop didn’t it?  Of course it didn’t.  But soon after that we would hit Gairlochy.  All those boaters on the Caledonian Canal would need a café wouldn’t they?  Apparently not.  And there would be one of those mobile refreshment trailers parked up for the tourists at the Commando Memorial, perhaps even selling bacon butties.  No there wouldn’t be.  There was, of course, a selection of tea shops in Spean Bridge (if a single tea shop can be said to be a selection) but I was there by then wasn’t I so what was the point?
Loch Lochy near Gairloch
Not a café in sight...
The pleasantest section of the walk was the short off road stretch around the foot of Loch Lochy on the Great Glen Way.  The most memorable part of the day, however, was the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge which I found quite moving.  The thoughts of what these generations of brave men had done put our little walk and a bit of rain and sleet into perspective.
These guys did more than a long walk
Thank you
That evening I spent an hour drying gear and sorting a supply parcel in the B and B.  I hung the soaking Akto over the shower to dry out, and gave the enormous slug that I later found in there a piece of my mind.  I didn’t so much mind that he had left a sticky trail all across the flysheet; but I was pretty miffed that I had lugged his big fat body all the way from Loch Arkaig.  Every gramme counts, doesn’t it?  So I punished him by chucking him out of the window.  Please do not report me to the RSPCA for this wanton act of cruelty.  I later ate at the Old Station at Spean Bridge.  Not cheap, but lamb in red wine washed down with Guinness, followed by Bread and Butter Pudding is rather tastier than your average freeze dried muck, n’est ce pas?

Order out of chaos


Monday 27 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Day 2: The Joys of the Challenge

Ready for the off on Day 2
Well, I left no trace but previous campers had done so

I was awake by 5.00am, and lay in the tent, brewing up and eating my comfort breakfast of Ready Brek.  I mix it with sugar and dried milk in a plastic food bag before leaving home and then add boiling water to the bag, giving a hot breakfast with no washing up and minimal use of gas. The torrential rain of the previous day and night had stopped.  Now it was simply showery.  This makes such a difference to the ease and comfort of wild camping, what with the need for cat hole ablutions and packing stuff away.  Deer were grazing on the shingle beach near the bothy as I sorted out my kit.  A couple of bothy dwellers emerged and headed towards the ruins of Finiskaig.  I set off on my day’s walk a few minutes behind them, the skies dark and menacing giving the area around the head of this sea loch a very desolate and heavy atmosphere.
I caught the two walkers in front up after 30 minutes or so, when they were stopped for some reason.  It was Colin Crawford, an extremely experienced Challenger from Glasgow, and his first time Challenger companion from Edinburgh, John Boyce.  I wasn’t certain of Challenge etiquette now.  I fancied some walking companions in the oppressive atmosphere of this grey early morning.  Whilst the general direction was clear, the path was indeterminate and wet and boggy, and walking with others would be a distraction and help prevent nagging worries developing.  They were clearly faster walkers than me, but with a bit of extra effort I kept up and tagged along and this didn’t seem a problem for them, although I suspect Colin at least could have walked much faster if he had not had me there.  But both were delightfully kind, helpful and friendly.
Colin and John at the Finiskaig River crossing

An easy first river crossing: safely over
We followed the path, such as it was, along by the Finiskaig River and up to Lochain a Mhaim.  The rain was coming down again now.  We missed the ford shown on the map and after some minor scrambling and boulder hopping came to the outflow from the Lochain, where we crossed the stream.  This was my first proper fording of a river in over 30 years and it was thankfully a very simple one.  My trail shoes now came into their own.  Trouser legs rolled up and straight across.  No faffing with boots or crocs.  Then it was on and up to the watershed.  This was further than I had anticipated.  Although I think I read maps pretty well, I was not used to navigating with a 1:50000 map, having used 1:25000 for so many decades.  You seem to cover ground very slowly on a 1:50k map!
We headed down towards Glen Dessarry and the Allt Coire nan Uth.  This stream wasn’t wide but it was in a steep little valley and there was a lot of white water in it.  Alone I would have hesitated and faffed.  Was it safe to cross?  I would have been going back and forwards for ages to pick a spot to ford.  It was good to have Colin’s reassuring presence here as he guided me across, then John, then a few seconds later returned to help two walkers coming up the valley who were also somewhat hesitant.
Glendessary opened in front of us.  There was a hint of sunlight and lighter skies.  We were joined by Matt Little as we stopped for some lunch.  And then it was solo walking for me again.  The others headed towards Kinbreack Bothy; I down to Loch Arkaig, for mine was planned as a low level crossing.
Camp Spot by Loch Arkaig

 A few km along the road at Caonich I found a small, semi-wild camp spot almost on the loch shore and was joined by two fellow Challengers, John from Northampton and Frederick from the Loire Valley.  The sun was out now.  Suddenly, Frederick was tearing his Trail Star down muttering “Teeks, teeks, hundreds of teeks”.  He hung his shelter from a tree.  It was covered in a myriad of tiny black spots and he spent the next hour or more with a tissue, meticulously killing them one by one, explaining that one of his friends had had Lyme’s Disease.  He then re-erected the Trail Star on the shingle beach of the Loch.  John and I watched bemused and amused.  John had not come across ticks before.  I had, often on the dog and once, after walking through a lot of bracken on Gowbarrow Fell, on me.  I explained to John that ticks liked nothing better than to head for the warmth of the groin area before latching on, and from then on he giggled hysterically between bouts of furious, precautionary scratching of his nether regions.  But we could see no ticks on our own shelters and surely Frederick’s behaviour was OTT?  Well, as it happened the answer is no.  24 hours later and both John and I would be sitting in our respective B and Bs removing numbers of ticks from ourselves.  Nasty little blighters, ticks.  I would have them all strung up I would, if I had my way.
Tick Killing The French Way

John grimaces as another tick takes hold
It had been a good day.  The walking had been enjoyable; I had found a decent camp spot.  The weather appeared to have changed for the better; and the reassuring, calm presence of Colin and John at the river crossings had been a real confidence booster....


Sunday 26 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Day 1: Excitement

I rarely sleep beyond 4.00am these days so after the obligatory cups of tea whilst lying in bed I was out for an early morning wander around Mallaig.  The weather was perfect.  Sun, a few fluffy clouds and no more than a slight breath of wind.  The harbour was still.  The water flat calm.  The gulls cried.  There was a smell of saIt, seaweed and diesel oil, so evocative of fishing ports.  It was serene.  For the first time in weeks my nerves vanished.  Just vanished.  And also for the first time in weeks I sensed a different emotion.  Excitement.  I could feel a silly grin appearing on my face.  Now just to digress from the Challenge tale for a moment, I must acknowledge the superfluous nature of the phrase “on my face” in the previous sentence, for where else can a grin appear but on the face?

Anyway, grinning like the Cheshire Cat I popped down to the Co-op and bought a sandwich for my lunch.  Good move, as over the coming days I was to became profoundly bored with trail mix and cereal bars.  Then back to the B and B.  Full Scottish.  Re-sort pack (again).  Up to the West Highland Hotel to sign out at 9.10am, meaning my Challenge formally started with a sit down, as I then had to wait until Bruce Watts weighed anchor at 10.15pm.
Mike Knipe contemplates a 45 minute boat trip before he can get to the pub
As a whole big bunch of Challengers waited for Bruce’s boat it started to rain lightly and intermittently.  Wanting not to risk having wet clothing earlier than necessary, I pulled on cag and overtrousers.  These were to remain on until I was finally in my tent several hours later.  I spotted a ULA Catalyst pack on another Challenger, and thus I met “Reuben’s Dad”, James Boulter, for the first time outside cyber space.  I have a bad habit of “knowing” if I like someone instantly, and I did.  Thoroughly nice guy.  Also on the boat was another person known, until then, only through the medium of wireless and fibre optics (although us country dwellers should be so lucky to ever get fibre optics).  This was Superdawg’s Dad, Mike Knipe, him of the driest sense of humour outside the Sahara.  And our new Dutch friends, Chaz and Dave were there too.

Crossing Loch Nevis on the way to Inverie
 45 minutes later we arrived at Inverie to the organised chaos of packs being removed from the hold (I am making this up as I go along, as the hold was just a blue tarpaulin on the deck) and passed up on to the bustling quayside.  Ok, this wasn’t Rotterdam but there was a bit of bustle.  Whilst James and I faffed around taking photos and getting our Pacer Poles out, Mike Knipe and various other old hands headed off at a speed of knots.  Not to walk, of course, but to get to the bar of the pub in Inverie before a queue built up.  That was my last view of Mike on the Challenge.
I walked with James for the first 45 minutes or so until our routes diverged.  I then headed off the LR track to get my first minor taste (I was only in it for 15 minutes) of Scottish bog as I cut across to Gleann Meadall and then started the gentle climb up to the col at the top of the Glen.  I walked this section alone, although I was aware of Chaz and Dave someway behind me.  The rain came on properly and its intensity increased steadily.  There were a group of Challengers resting at the Col when I arrived.  I believe some had left their packs there and had just “popped up” a nearby hill.
I had no intentions at any time on this Challenge of doing anything like that on my walk.  I had one aspiration and one aspiration only.  To get to the east coast.  Hills could wait for another time and another crossing.  Later in the Challenge, by the time I reached Braemar, this aspiration had actually turned into a specific, well thought out and simple strategy, which I shall elaborate on in a later post for anyone sad enough still to be reading by then.
The path down to Sourlies was far easier than I had anticipated; less steep than the impression I had gained from previous Challengers.  I walked across the bog and salt marshes, admiring a few grazing deer, with two others – I think it was Matt Little and Ian Somerville and the tide was low enough to allow us to walk round to the bothy on the beach and so avoid a final stiff pull up over the headland.

That's my little Akto near the Sourlies Bothy
 There is some lovely turf for camping on just before the bothy.  I decided to avoid this and save later arrivals the horror of my snoring by going on just beyond the bothy to a smaller patch of turf near a stream.  The Akto was up by 4.45pm.  The rain hammered down.  I hunkered down in the warmth of my tent and sleeping bag and brewed up.  Dave and Chaz went passed (should that be past?) at 5.30pm planning to walk to a bothy beyond Glen Dessarry (I later heard they walked until 11.00pm).
After my first dehydrated meal of the walk I thought that was me for the day.  Then I looked out of my tent.  The stream was well up.  The tide was in and the loch was high.  Pools of water were developing all around my tent.  I packed most of my stuff in case I had to bail out.  The rain continued.  At 8.00pm I was taking the tent down and moving to the turf the other side of the bothy which was on slightly higher ground.  Ian’s Duomid had been near mine.  He decided to risk staying put.  I had half an hour by the fire in the bothy before bed back in the tent.  Ian was moving his Duomid in the dark at 11.00pm as the rain kept falling….
After the move: this was a far drier spot



Saturday 25 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Day Minus 1: Do I Really Look that Stupid?

In my mind the Challenge started on the day of my train journey to Mallaig.  This is the day when it all became real.

And We're Off

I was vaguely amused by the Virgin Rail poster I saw on the platform as I waited for my train on Penrith station.  It said "Do not carry more luggage onto the train than you can comfortably carry". It raised a wry smile from me as I hefted my pack in to the carriage. A good motto for planning for the Challenge.

Glasgow Queen Street. I had never met a real Challenger before.  All the ones I knew were cyber space acquaintances, fellow tweeters or bloggers who revealed their characters and views in 140 character bite size chunks.  I headed in to the bar and found Messrs Lambert, Walker and Sloman drinking tea.  They kindly welcomed my intrusion so I wasn't Billy No Mates.  I follow Alan and Andrew on Twitter.   They were exactly as expected.  That's good. I didn't know Phil, but he exuded quiet confidence and experience. The station filled with rucksacks, and old friends reunited. I stood on the fringes, glad to get into my reserved seat rather than crashing other people's conversations.

The lovely Vicky Allen and her aunt Barbara were sitting behind me in the carriage.  This was a good thing.  A fellow Challenger kept coming to speak to me.  He was experienced.  He had done the crossing once before and was full of advice for me.  My route sounded dodgy. I shouldn't camp by that loch - the wind whistled down the valley at hurricane force and my tent wouldn't survive.  The ferry to Inverie only held 3 or 4 people and I wouldn't get a place on it if I hadn't booked.  And best of all, he asked me whether I had waterproofs with me. Well, even I didn't think I looked that dim.  As he left, Vicky simply whispered "He doesn't know what he's talking about.  Ignore him".  I tried and I think the waterproofs comment helped.  I have been climbing mountains for over 40 years now and I like to think that this, and the compulsory units in meteorology I did as part of my degree had given me a hint that Scotland could be a tad rainy.

Fort William.  The two empty seats opposite me filled with Dutch father and son, Charles and David. David turned out to be this year's youngest Challenger. What thoroughly nice chaps.  I liked them immediately, but couldn't get Chaz and Dave, the Cockney pub singing duet out of my mind, despite the fact that my new companions were the very opposite, and I had to resist the urge to say "gercha" at them.  A week later David would show remarkable peace of mind on the evening when Charles, David, James Boulter and myself were viciously assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a duck in the Fife Arms in Braemar.  That little episode will feature in a future post.

Mallaig Harbour - The Night Before The Off

Mallaig.  Checked in to my B and B. Great fish and chips. The haddock can't have been dead more than a few hours.  Walked down to the waterfront and looked out to the Western Isles.  I couldn't believe the magical beauty of the scene looking over towards Rhum, Eigg and the distant Cuillins.  I had never been here before.  I would have to come back.

I wish I had a better camera but none could do justice to this view

Bed. Ready, steady.... 

TGOC 2013 Minus 2 Days: Apprehension

This is a blog post that I did not want to write and publish before the Challenge.  My apologies for any pretentious twaddle.

A canal towpath is not necessarily the best training ground for a walk across Scotland...
Two days before the 2013 Challenge and I was getting myself in a right state.
My mood had perceptibly shifted in the weeks leading up to the Challenge. After the brown envelope from Mr Manning had arrived telling me I had one of the coveted 300 places there had been months of excitement – planning, sorting routes and general anticipation.  Despite this, I had always thought that mine was not the ideal personality for the spirit or reality of the Challenge.  In part, I was conscious of the social side of the Challenge, which appeared to be an essential element.  Indeed, without this, what would be the point of the event, given that we could all just go off and do such a walk on our own, couldn’t we?  I am not naturally outgoing.  I tend to do my walking alone, more by circumstance than choice, but I knew from reputation that an essential element of the Challenge was the social side.  More importantly, I am one of life’s worriers.  A big time worrier.  I get anxious about many things.  And as the Challenge came closer, I became more and more apprehensive, not helped by my naïve, long held expectation that the weather must be better this year than it had been for recent Challenges, an expectation that was rapidly disappearing in the final two weeks of the lead up.
I knew I wasn’t superbly fit and that my training could have been more intensive.  I had never backpacked for more than 4 days before.  I had very little experience of Scotland, despite extensive hill walking and mountain experience elsewhere.  I reckoned that decent weather would significantly enhance my chances of a successful crossing.  Yet the weather had been dire, and the forecasts were poor.  Tweets were flying around about the possible need for winter gear, heavier sleeping bags and the like. I was agonising about what to take, what could go wrong and generally working myself up into a state.  I was worried about river crossings if it was to be very wet and with all the snow melt.  I wondered if I could take the general discomfort of being wet for days on end and also how a very tall, middle aged bloke like me could cope with crawling in and out of a tiny, sodden tent.  I wondered about whether I had the right kit, about whether I was physically able to take the long days, about whether my calf would be ok, knackered since two back operations had left me with nerve damage down my left leg.  And I was concerned about my nemesis, my phobia of cattle.  But I had wanted to do this Challenge for so long.  So many people knew I was attempting it.  I was most scared of dropping out.  Especially early on in the event.  Thus, my apprehension can be summarised as the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure, my two biggest concerns.
So the day before I set out to Mallaig I calmed my nerves with a trip down to my favourite town in the whole wide world, Keswick, just half an hour away from my cottage, and looked to my well loved hills and, despite knowing that their familiarity would contrast with what was to come, I did what real athletes and sportsmen do.  I tried to “visualise victory”.  I imagined the feeling that I would experience on a beach on the east coast of Scotland in just over two weeks.  I also told myself that thousands of others had successfully made the crossing, that I was far younger than many of them, that they had faced successfully all the things I was getting worked up about and had just got on with it.  I told myself that I was generally being ridiculous.  I’m not certain it worked, but the tea and cake in Booths were good, so I set off back home, finished loading my rucksack and had a pretty sleepless night as a prelude to the coming journey.
To be continued......

Wednesday 8 May 2013

TGO Last Minute Musings

It is a long time since the brown envelope arrived last autumn with the news that so excited me - a coveted place on The Great Outdoors Challenge.  At the time it felt like I had ages to prepare. Lots of time to train and to sort the logistics.  As it happens, there was plenty of time for both.  But for various reasons eg rotten weather (which I could and should have ignored!), domestic commitments, a house move, and new work commitments, I did far less of the former than anticipated.  I guess that will be the story for many of the 300 challengers.  Ironically, on my last training walk, only carrying a light pack, just over a week ago in the Berwyn Hills of mid-Wales,  I "tweaked" a calf muscle and that gave me quite a bit of pain for a few days.  A scan yesterday at an emergency physio session showed a tear in the muscle.  However, it is not hurting at the moment so I have bought  some extra strapping in case it needs support and stuck this in my pack, and I will hope for the best.

Now I am all packed and a taxi is booked to take me to Penrith Station tomorrow morning for the journey to Mallaig.

Kit packed and carried:  I managed to lighten my load somewhat from the earlier post on this blog which set out my intended kit list.  Although I will still be one of the heavier challengers (both me and my pack!) I have now had to stop agonising about what to keep in and what to ditch.  Decisions are made.  With 3 days food, fuel and base clothing and equipment I will be carrying 13.6kg + clothes worn. I have gone with the Akto rather than the Trail Star, as the latter is just no good for my height.  I dithered over sleeping bag choice, given the poor weather forecast, but have settled on the Rab Neutrino Endurance 400 which is 900 grams with 800+ fill power which should, I hope, keep me tolerably warm.  I have ditched the Montane Prism Primaloft trousers and silk liner that I would have used if I was taking a lighter bag. I have a spare Berghaus polyester base layer to sleep in.    And I have thrown in a pair of Ron Hill Tracksters (fashion disaster) also to sleep in, so I should always have spare, dry clothes for night only.  My Montane Terra walking trousers are not that warm so I have some very light Rab Meco long johns if needed.  I also have decided to risk just taking my trail shoes, with no other footwear to change into.  I will ford streams in these - but I have thrown in some Seal Skinz socks and some Ultralight Rohan liner socks in case I want to keep my feet dry in the evenings.  Not carrying crocs or similar saves over 400 grams.

My maps weigh far more than they should, partly due to over caution and partly due to my own stupidity.  I decided to trim down, very moderately, my paper OS maps and to carry them all with me in case any resupply parcel goes missing.  They will generally be stowed in the pack; I printed out A4 map extracts on waterproof paper and have posted these on in resupply parcels, other than for those needed for the first 3 days, and I will only get out the larger area maps if needed.  Overkill to most other Challengers I suspect.  Like an idiot, it never occurred to me to print out the map extracts double sided, but I can at least trim these down so they only show the line of my route as I have the larger back ups in my pack.

So now I am as ready as I will ever be, and I am facing the next two weeks with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I think the former will grow and the latter will recede as I actually get started on the walk.  I am sure some of the apprehension will linger, though, until I am on Stonehaven beach two weeks tomorrow.  In the meantime I am looking forward to meeting lots of other challengers, so many of whom have been so supportive and helpful and free with advice over the last 6 months.